“My family, my future; it means too much to me. I can’t risk it, it’s not worth the risk; I’m done.” — Eric Lopez in Game’s Over

I previously blogged about my adventures as an extra on Star Trek Beyond in 2015, but in July 2017 I beamed up to a starring role as Eric Lopez in “Game’s Over,” a short film by students at SAE Institute Dubai. We shot the film during the evening on July 18 and 19 in Dubai and it premiered at a student showcase at SAE on August 20.

I was invited to participate in this film noir project by Natalie Aji, the film’s producer, Melissa Urresti, the director, via my profile on Mixfame (an online platform connecting talented individuals with production houses, casting directors and producers for projects in UAE and the Middle East).

A description of the film follows:

“Three men are involved in the Los Angeles underground scene. When Eric wants to quit in order to save his family, John and Matthew must figure out a way to make him stay in order to sustain their social status and not expose the crimes they have committed.”

After participating in a student film and two promotional videos at the American University in the Emirates (where I have taught management and marketing courses since 2015) in addition to my past appearances on game shows from 2000 to 2008 I was thrilled to be a part of this project. Acting in this film was challenging, yet rewarding; it pushed me to expand my abilities creatively and professionally.

I also appreciated the opportunity to expand my acting experience with such a dramatic role in a project that helped students complete a project for their degree program. I was thoroughly impressed with their dedication and determination. Although it is slightly less than 8 minutes in length, we spent at least 10 hours shooting on location; I am sure at least that many hours were spent editing the final film.

You can watch “Game’s Over” below or view it directly on YouTube.

Bravo to the crew and my fellow cast members for a job well done!

Dammit Jim, I’m an instructor, not an extra!

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Last month I blogged about my experience as an extra on Star Trek Beyond here in Dubai. At the time I did not think I had made the cut into the movie. However, the other day at a Dmitry Masleev piano concert I ran into Koenraad Gys, a friend who was also an extra; he said saw me while watching a DVD of the movie.

I planned to get and watch the DVD, but tonight, just as I logged into YouTube for my MGT 100, Principles of Management class at American University in the Emirates (AUE), I saw a suggested clip titled “Star Trek Beyond: Starbase Yorktown Introduction Sequence.”

I watched it and, sure enough, at 1:31 to 1:32, spotted myself in my dark blue costume on the left hand side of the frame! You can somewhat see my extra two arms near my thighs, but you can very clearly see my face.

I took three screen shots from the YouTube clip and enhanced them as best as I could, circling myself in red. You can see my friend Alissar Nasrallah  to my right wearing a yellow jacket and my other friend Shah Qhan in the middle of the shot facing the other way with his hand on another extra’s back; I met both on the set.

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Live long and… extra!

On October 15, 2015 I boldly went… onto the set of Star Trek Beyond.

I first learned about the opportunity in August 2015 from the Facebook page of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. After auditioning, I was invited to act as an extra on the final day of filming at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. The production had been previously filming around Dubai in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) (where some set shots were captured).

First I had to get fitted for a costume.  The outfit they had planned included an alien head, but the headpiece was too tight. So we tried Costume #866: a blue heavy sweater top (with a turtleneck that I was supposed to button up, covering my whole head), a black jacket/overall combination of sorts with overall-like straps (that I held onto as I walked), black leather gloves with what appeared to be two fingers and a thumb, dark blue ski pants, and black motorcycle boots. Oh, and it had four arms!

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I arrived on set at 11 am Thursday, October 15 and left at 5 am the next morning (18 hours total with 17 of them being active on the set). By 9 am that morning I was at American University in the Emirates (AUE) teaching MKT 200, Principles of Marketing!

After I arrived and got into my costume I walked in front of a green screen and was photographed in 360 degrees for digital capture. It’s possible, that given both of these activities, I appear in the film although my head was covered by what I called the “turtleneck” of the costume. Fortunately, I was able to leave my head uncovered during the on-set filming — which is why I was able to see myself on screen!

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Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of myself in my costume (beyond my 1.5 second appearance on-screen, explained below) because we were prevented from having our phones. But, you can catch a glimpse of the set in the Instagram video below from Zachary Quinto who plays Mr. Spock; I was to the right of the person recording it:

View this post on Instagram

this. maybe for the last time. maybe not.

A post shared by Zachary Quinto (@zacharyquinto) on

Despite the futuristic world in which Star Trek is set, I felt “Amish  adjacent.” Being accustomed to regularly checking my phone, I felt awkward, but eventually the digital detox was a welcome change. We had nothing else to do but talk with each other! This actually wasn’t my first time on a set though; I’ve been on three game shows.

However, this was my first time on a major motion picture set: everything was impressively overwhelming. There was an army of friendly assistants wiping sweat from our faces, squirting shaving cream down our necks to cool us off, and giving us water. It was simultaneously invigorating and exhausting; I was energized yet tired at the same time by the activity and excitement that surrounded me. Some random memories of my “extra experience” include:

  • Costume designers fixed costumes with thread, tape, and glue.
  • Countless people with clipboards stood at the ready.
  • Extras moved about the set like a sea of bustling humanity.
  • Grips with duct tape swinging from their belts scurried about.
  • Production assistants wrestled with film equipment.

The set where I worked appears in the first 10 minutes of the film as the USS Enterprise arrives at the Yorktown Starbase. When I first saw the movie in the theater (and when I first wrote this post, which I have since updated) I didn’t see myself. I assumed I had been lost to the cutting room floor.

However, at a Dmitry Masleev piano concert I ran into Koenraad Gys who was also an extra. He said he clearly saw me about 10 minutes in while watching a DVD of the movie! Ironically, almost exactly a year earlier (a month after filming) I bumped into Koenraad in Dubai. He was with his brother-in-law Nabeel, and another friend Dean Weltner — all of whom were extras.

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I planned to watch the DVD, but that turned out to be unnecessary. On Monday, November 7, just as I logged into YouTube for my MGT 100, Principles of Management class at American University in the Emirates (AUE), I saw a suggested clip titled “Star Trek Beyond: Starbase Yorktown Introduction Sequence.”

I watched the video with my students, who were delighted and excited. It was special sharing that moment with them, especially since I first received a text confirming my casting while I was teaching another class! And, sure enough at 1:31 to 1:32 — 1 second of movie magic — spotted myself in my dark blue costume on the left hand side of the frame! You can somewhat see my extra two arms near my thighs, but you can very clearly see my face.

I took three screen shots from the YouTube clip and enhanced them, circling myself in red. You can also two of the friends I made on set: Alissar Nasrallah  to my right wearing a yellow jacket and Shah Qhan in the middle of the shot facing the other way with his hand on another extra’s back.

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When I first began my actual on-set activity I was paired with another man named Amir in the same four-armed costume. His 8 to 10-year-old son was an extra dressed as a Vulcan child and his wife was there in an ornate dress with a large white hat. For most of that experience he and I walked together, but he left with his son around midnight or 1 am. The fact that I am walking alone here tells me that this was shot between 1 and 4 am; it might have been one of the last scenes filmed in the entire movie.

It was a long day (and night), but it was an exceptionally unique experience that I would definitely do again. I made many new friends and got to be a part of something memorable and meaningful. My mind is filled with a multitude of memories I will forever remember:

  • A Walk to Remember: I quite literally I walked for 12 hours straight (more or less). For most of the takes I walked with a similarly costumed character — either side by side or single file. As the My feet ached for a week and I wore sneakers to work!
  • Green Screen: I walked in front of a green screen alongside two other extras with my face covered by an extended knit turtleneck part of my costume (this made it nearly impossible to see). The crew also took a series of digital capture photographs of me and did a 360 degree 3-dimensional body capture.
  • Meet and Greet: I shook hands with Simon Pegg after his scenes in the film concluded. I had just seen another film of his, Man Up, and shared with him how much I enjoyed it. At one point during a break I also used the bathroom at the same time as Zachary Quinto (but I didn’t shake his hand).
  • Social Experiment: One of the most interesting aspects to the experience was that people grouped themselves together with others in similar costumes; even people in different Star Fleet uniforms and different ranks segmented themselves together.
  • Well Armed: The costume I wore was alien-esque (I had four arms), but I did not have an alien head.  I was able to wear my costume with my face showing during my work on set and got to walk in front of, behind, and alongside several of the main characters including Chris Pine as Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock.

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After the movie was released I appeared for the third time on Ben Olmos’ “The Satisfactionist Podcast” with Shah Qhan — a friend I made on set. Shah and I discussed our experiences as extras; there is a great amount of detail in the recording if you’re curious to learn more. We also shared our thoughts about other entertainment topics. However, I edited those segments out and only kept the Star Trek Beyond commentary. If you’d like to listen to the full podcast you can do so here.

Live long and prosper.

20160801_015246I made another appearance on The Satisfactionist Podcast, this time as part of a virtual panel discussion on a “Buzz Session” with the podcast’s host Ben Olmos and my friend Shah Qhan whom I met as an extra while on the set of Star Trek Beyond here in Dubai.

According to the official description:

“This week we introduce Satisfactionist Buzz Sessions, a gathering of pundits joined around a topic of interest. Our first Buzz Session features Matthew A. Gilbert and Shah Qhan as we focus on some of the movies released for the summer of 2016. In this episode we talk Tarzan, Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, and Matt and Shah talk about their experience as extras in Star Trek Beyond.”

Our segment begins at 33:58 into the episode; listen to it on:

Google Play

iTunes

SoundCloud

Stitcher Radio

Since 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 the California Vehicle Code (CVC) mandates that all drivers use a “hands-free” device when driving and talking on a cellular phone.  The state actually passed two laws which are now active as Section 23123 and Section 23124 of the CVC.

According to the new laws, drivers caught talking on a hand-held cell phone will be subject to fines of $20 for the first ticket and $50 for subsequent tickets. Additional fees can potentially more than triple the fine — I have heard that the average first ticket will cost $76!

One silver lining in this dark cloud: although the infraction will appear on your driving record the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will not assign you a violation point.

Below is an instructional video about the news laws followed by Q & A about them (courtesy of the DMV):

Q: When do the new wireless telephone laws take effect?
A: The new laws take effect July 1, 2008.

Q: What is the difference between the two laws?
A: The first prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (Vehicle Code (VC) §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device.” Drivers under the age of 18 may NOT use a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).

Q: What if I need to use my telephone during an emergency, and I do not have a “hands-free” device?
A: The law allows a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency.

Q: What are the fines(s) if I’m convicted?
A: The base fine for the FIRST offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With the addition of penalty assessments, the fines can be more than triple the base fine amount.

Q: Will I receive a point on my driver license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone law?
A: No. The violation is a reportable offense, however, DMV will not assign a violation point.

Q: Will the conviction appear on my driving record?
A: Yes, but the violation point will not be added.

Q: Will there be a grace period when motorists will only get a warning?
A: No. The law becomes effective July 1, 2008. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate remedy for the situation.

Q: Are passengers affected by this law?
A: No. This law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle.

Q: Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws?
A: Yes.

Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my handheld wireless telephone?
A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.

Q: What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?
A: No. The law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a “push-to-talk” feature. However, a push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.

Q: What other exceptions are there?
A: Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt, as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.

 

Drivers 18 and Over

Drivers 18 and over will be allowed to use a “hands-free” device to talk on their wireless telephone while driving. The following FAQs apply to those motorists 18 and over.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
A: The new law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.

Q: Will it be legal to use a Bluetooth or other earpiece?
A: Yes, however you cannot have BOTH ears covered.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving?
A: Yes.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text message while driving?
A: The law does not specifically prohibit that, but an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. Sending text messages while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.

Drivers Under 18

Q: Am I allowed to use my wireless telephone “hands-free?”
A: No. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile services device to speak or text while driving in any manner, even “hands-free.” EXCEPTION: Permitted in emergency situations to call police, fire or medical authorities (VC §23124).

Q: Why is the law stricter for provisional drivers?
A: Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless devices, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes.

Q: Can my parents give me permission to allow me to use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. The only exception is an emergency situation that requires you to call a law enforcement agency, a health care provider, the fire department or other emergency agency entity.

Q: Does the law apply to me if I’m an emancipated minor?
A: Yes. The restriction applies to all licensed drivers who are under the age of 18.

Q: If I have my parent(s) or someone age 25 years or older in the car with me, may I use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. You may only use your wireless telephone in an emergency situation.

Q: Will the restriction appear on my provisional license?
A: No.

Q: May I use the hands-free feature while driving if my car has the feature built in?
A: No. The law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of wireless device while driving, except in an emergency situation.

Q: Can a law enforcement officer stop me for using my “hands-free” device while driving?
A: For drivers under the age of 18, this is considered a SECONDARY violation meaning that a law enforcement officer may cite you for using a “hands-free” wireless device if you were pulled over for another violation. However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless device while driving is a PRIMARY violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.

It is hoped the laws will reduce distractions to drivers, thereby mitigating the 4,000 traffic accident deaths that occur in the state each year.

A study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute documented 80 percent of accidents are caused by driver distraction, and 65 percent of near-crashes resulted from driver inattention three seconds before the event. The Public Policy Institute of California anticipates 300 fewer traffic fatalities annually once these new laws take effect.

Yet, there remains great debate as to how much using a hands-free device improves your ability to pay attention to the road beyond what you would experience by simply holding the phone to your ear.

In a June 28, 2008 a Daily Breeze article, California State University, Dominguez Hills psychology professor Larry Rosen, a specialist in the psychology of technology, is quoted as follows:

“Hands-free phones are no safer than handheld – it’s all an issue of cognitive load, or brain power. If you talk to somebody on a phone, you only get a limited number of cues, as opposed to looking at someone when you can see their demeanor, their facial expressions. When you don’t have those cues, your brain has to work hard to fill them in and having to work extra hard means you’ll be paying little attention to the road.”

Additionally, as reported in a July 2, 2008 Daily News article, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered listening to a conversation while driving reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent!

So, as was echoed in the quote by professor Rosen (above), it’s not how you are talking on your cell phone that matters — it’s the fact that you are talking on your cell phone. You could have two extra hands on the wheel while wearing your headset and still drive like an idiot.

That being said, I think using a headset is a nice option while you are in the car — though I think it actually has the opposite effect: it makes me want to talk more. I find myself more engaged in the conversation because I don’t have to think about holding the phone. I am unsure if I am in the normal or abnormal category for this issue, but it is how I feel.

For nearly the past month I have been using the Plantronics Explorer 350 with my Palm Centro — mostly as I drove to and from DeVry University in Bakersfield, but also around town on short errands. It works very well and it is reasonably comfortable. I like it because it sits in my ear, making it easier to hear the person with whom I am speaking.

I recommend this device to anyone looking for a Bluetooth headset. I do, however, not recommend wearing it outside of your car — you can get away with looking like a dork/Borg from Star Trek in your car, but once you are outside of it, the same cannot be said!

I initially tried a Motorola H500, but either the unit I had was defective or the design doesn’t suit me — becasue I could almost never hear anyone whether I was at highway speeds or even on side streets.

In any case, the results of this new law remain to be seen, but if it has the same effect as most other laws related to driving — or even most laws for that matter — I doubt it will have much of an impact beyond generating additional revenue for the state that can get misappropriated.

I am encouraged by the portion of the law dealing with drivers under 18, as that seems to make the most sense: completely outlawing the use of cell phones while driving is the only way to (at least legally) ensure that drivers are no longer distracted by them.

At the same time I am a realist: making something illegal does little to prevent someone determined to do it from doing it.  I also know that if you aren’t distracted by your cell phone while driving there are plenty of other things to do the job: kids, pets, people, iPods,  the stereo, makeup, food — the list goes on. I once even saw a woman reading a book while driving down the 405 Freeway Southbound in the Sepulveda pass!

But, if you live in California, it is now law, so unless you want to waste a lot of money you need to “get assimilated” and find yourself an earpiece that works for you. Just look at the bright side: now you will have an extra hand free so you can hold your coffee and your breakfast burrito while talking on the phone!